This is one of those times when a photo just doesn’t do justice to a dish.
But trust me when I say that these “Southern Baked Beans” are one of the very best bean dishes I’ve ever tasted.
And they are a cinch to make.
This keeper of a recipe is from “Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, with 125 Recipes” (Ten Speed Press, 2020) by Joe Yonan, the food and dining editor of The Washington Post.
I am not the biggest fan of traditional baked beans. They’re just way too sweet, and frankly, I’d rather save the sugary part of my meal for dessert.
What makes these Southern baked beans so miraculous is that they are not cloying at all, but deeply, profoundly savory with just a whisper of natural fruity sweetness from tomato paste. In fact, it’s rather astonishing the depth and complexity they take on, given how few ingredients are used.
Yonan was inspired by the late-great Edna Lewis’ baked beans, which he writes in the book, forgoes the Yankee inclusion of maple syrup for the more subtle sweetness of the tomato paste. A vegetarian (as are all the recipes in the book), he swaps out her use of salt pork for liquid aminos instead. Tamari can be substituted. And if you aren’t on a gluten-free diet, soy sauce also works in a pinch.
I used cranberry beans, which I soaked overnight. The next day, the beans, some water, plus onion, the liquid aminos, tomato paste, Spanish smoked paprika, and dry mustard went into a heavy pot that was slid into the oven.
The beans are baked for three hours. That may seem like a long time, but your patience is worth it here. Plus, the beans bake in a low oven at 250 degrees, so even on a summer day, it’s not going to heat your house up royally. There’s also something to be said for the ease of being able to put a pot in the oven, and practically forget about it, while it does its thing.
When your timer goes off, lift the lid to discover beans that are now incredibly creamy in texture. Some may have even broken down a bit in cooking, which is fine. Best yet, pot liquor will have thickened, turning velvety and voluptuous.
These beans have a mouthwatering meatiness and smokiness that will have you coming back for more. Serve with crusty bread and a salad, if you’re vegetarian. Or if you’re not, as a side to ribs, or grilled pork chops or chicken. Heck, they’d even be amazing spooned over hot dogs or sausages tucked into buns.
After one taste, my husband immediately declared that I ought to make these regularly. Honestly, it’s the first time he’s ever been this excited about beans.
Southern Baked Beans
(Makes 6 servings)
1 pound dried navy beans (may substitute cannellini or cranberry/borlotti beans), soaked overnight and drained)
1 onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup liquid aminos or coconut aminos (may substitute tamari), plus more to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Kosher salt, to taste (if needed)
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Combine the beans with 4 cups water in a heavy pot over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the beans gently for 15 minutes. Stir in the onion, aminos, tomato paste, paprika, pepper, and mustard, cover, and bake until the beans are very tender and fragrant, about 3 hours. (Check the beans from time to time, and if the liquid has reduced so it is no longer covering the beans, add hot water to barely cover and continue cooking.)
Remove the beans from the oven, taste, and stir in salt if needed. Cover and let them sit until ready to serve.
Store the beans, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
From “Cool Beans” by Joe Yonan
More “Cool Beans” Recipes to Enjoy: French Green Lentils with A Trio of Mustards